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Besides being the coolest flicks of the summer, "The Blair Witch Project " and "Run Lola Run" share the same creative juice.

Running On Adrenaline

Forget "The Phantom Menace" hype, the posthumously provocative Kubrick and the wild, wild mess of Big Willie Weekend. The real, reel-deals this summer are an indie-fest darling and a hyperkinetic import.

While you may not know much about the German film "Run Lola Run," you'd have to be preternaturally out-of-the-loop not to have heard about "The Blair Witch Project." But what you may not know is that they both share the same fuel. Move over, necessity — in these two very different movies, the true mother of invention is desperation.

In the case of the three student filmmakers in "The Blair Witch Project," desperation slowly insinuates itself into their group dynamic, eating away at their sanity. We are told from the outset that things do not end well for Heather (Heather Donahue), Josh (Joshua Leonard) or Mike (Michael Williams). What we aren't told is what keeps us watching. At the beginning of the film, an on-screen caption announces that three college students disappeared in the Black Hills of Maryland while filming a documentary. All anyone ever found of the trio is the footage they shot. With that simple premise, "The Blair Witch Project" reels us in as the surviving tape begins to roll.

"BWP" begins with a playful tone, letting us watch the three filmmakers record their preparations for the shoot (on videotape) and capture the natives discussing the myths surrounding the subject of their film (on 16 mm). These interviews are frequently funny; the lighthearted tone letting us know the kids don't take the legend seriously. While the filmed moments set the story, the video pieces provide insight into the three characters.

Heather, the project's leader, is one of those overly-sure-of-her-own intelligence/common sense types. Mike, the soundman, who voices concerns over the project from the outset and doesn't find their predicament amusing. And Josh, the cameraman, becomes the voice of reconciliation. When the three become lost in the woods, their forced camaraderie shatters. As the two-day project looms into three times as many days wandering around the woods lost, wet, hungry and scared, we sit watching and waiting. Waiting to see what gets them.

First-time writers/director Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick don't just set up a scary story, they redefine the horror genre by ignoring the gore and going straight for the brain. "The Blair Witch Project" is the kind of film that plays with your head, just as the escalating nightmare wreaks havoc with the heads of Heather, Mike and Josh. Oh, the bogeyman is out there all right, but Sanchez and Myrick don't ever resort to cheap, horror tricks like people or things jumping into a frame or overproduced musical foreshadowing. In fact, "The Blair Witch Project" has no musical underscore. Using only darkness and sound, Sanchez and Myrick fill our minds with dread.

And the acting — most of the dialogue was improvised — is intoxicatingly real. Cast and crew so effectively establish the characters that we care more about them than the situation they are in.

Sadly, suspension of disbelief will be more difficult in light of all the publicity surrounding this low-budget shocker. Knowing what to expect will lessen the impact somewhat, but there's still a final reveal in the chaotic final images that, long after the lights come on, will leave you wondering just what's what

Which is exactly how you'll feel after watching the hyperkinetic punkish cinema-verité "Run Lola Run." The most energetic, exhilarating ride this side of a theme park, "Run Lola Run" offers multiple versions of the same story: a young woman trying to save her boyfriend from a vicious gangster.

Similar to last year's romantic riff on the same theme, "Sliding Doors," "Lola" demonstrates how the tiniest alterations in timing and events can lead to happiness or tragedy. But that's just the premise. German writer/director Tom Tykwer infuses the action with boundless energy; a hypnotic, heart-pounding techno-pop score that pushes the narrative; and fast-forward snippets of the lives of the folks Lola run by.

Making the movie even more frenetic is the fact that it is shot in real time. If Lola has 20 minutes in which to save her boyfriend Manni, then that is how long we watch her race through the streets of Berlin, her flame-colored hair flying, her arms pumping, her thoughts repetitiously pounding in her head. The athletic actress playing Lola, Franka Potente, displays an amazing stamina. And in the few moments she's not flat-out running, Potente is equally impressive. Whether dodging bikes or gaggles of nuns or a hurtful truth revealed by her banker father, Potente's Lola never loses sight of the ticking clock — or Manni's (Moritz Bleibtreu) fate.

As Tykwer and his heroine reshuffle the deck, we become mesmerized with the chronology of events. We recognize where Lola is in her run. We wait for the car accident. The lady with the baby carriage. The woman at the copy machine in the bank. To his credit, Tykwer adds something to each scene in each successive retelling. Working with cinematographer Frank Griebe and editor Mathilde Bonnefoy, Tykwer mixes up angles and edits deftly. He even turns Lola into a Matt Groening-esque cartoon character when it suits him.

Tirelessly inventive, "Run Lola Run" redefines the "what if" genre of films just as "The Blair Witch Project" retools the horror cult

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